To be selected as an All-Star rates as one of the ultimate achievements and compliments an MLB player can receive, and Shin-Soo Choo has said as much in the past week since being selected for the first time.
But in the past week another compliment has come his way. Many, from teammates to former teammates to longtime foes, have been surprised to learn that Choo hasn’t previously been an All-Star.
“I was stunned the when I found out it was his first time,” said Joey Votto, Choo’s teammate in 2013 with the Cincinnati Reds. “I’m very proud for him. I’m excited to see him. I know he’s played really, really well of late. Clearly, he’s deserving. I hope he gets to enjoy it.”
Choo was worthy twice while with the Cleveland Indians and in his only season with the Reds. The kind of mega contract he signed late in 2013 with the Texas Rangers is usually reserved for an All-Star many times over.
His numbers say that he was worthy multiple times, though those numbers don’t necessarily catch the eye of fans who vote for the starters and even players who vote for one another.
On-base percentage and pitches per at-bat still don’t move the electorate.
So only now, in his 14th season and fifth with the Rangers, will Choo join baseball’s greats in the Midsummer Classic.
His name will be called Tuesday with the rest of the American League team at Nationals Park,and the expectation is that he will get at least one plate appearance as a pinch hitter off manager A.J. Hinch’s bench.
Choo will take it and the lasting impact it should have.
He is a good player, very good, and those who think has been a bust and injury prone or is undeserving because he’s the best player on a bad team need to start viewing him differently.
“I know I’m not really an impact player, like hitting 30 or40 homers or hitting .350,” Choo said. “I can do everything a little bit. That’s me. I think that’s why I haven’t been an All-Star. At the end of the season, my numbers are always there. I’ve said it many, many times.
“I believe I can play at this level. I can help a team a lot. The Rangers aren’t looking for a 30 home-run hitter, but they want someone who every day has a high on-base percentage. That’s what I’ve done in my career. I think I’ve done everything in my control to help this team.”
He said over the weekend in Baltimore that the recognition hadn’t sunk in, that he still couldn’t believe that his career résumé now includes an All-Star selection. He started to learn Sunday night and Monday — with media day and the Home Run Derby — all that it entails.
“Now I feel like, yeah, I made the All-Star team,” he said Monday during the AL media session.
Choo arrived here carrying a 51-game on-base streak, the longest in the majors this season and the sixth-longest since 2001, and a .293 batting average, .405 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage.
The last time he failed to reach base by walk, hit or hit by pitch was May 12, and in the two months since has posted a .337 average, .469 on-base percentage and .596 slugging percentage.
So, he hasn’t just been slapping singles. Choo has 13 homers and 11 doubles during the stretch and a career-high 18 homers at the break. He swatted No. 18 on Sunday, in addition to walking twice and singling.
Teammate Adrian Beltre pointed out that Choo has done much of this with a strained right quadriceps muscle that might put others on the disabled list. He has been unable to play the outfield the past two weeks and has received multiple days off, but is well enough to play Tuesday.
Like he was going miss this.
“In this game this time of year, no one’s playing healthy,” said Choo, who turned 36 on Friday.
Choo is aware of the criticism lobbed his way since he joined the Rangers on a seven-year contract worth $130 million. He understands the talk of the Rangers attempting to shed his salary, as they did briefly during the off-season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and a potential trade for right-hander Zack Greinke.
He strongly disagrees with those who have called him injury-prone. He gets 2016, when he hit the disabled list four times with calf strains, a small fracture in his back and a broken forearm.
Choo played the majority of 2014 on a sprained ankle and with bone chips in his elbow, both of which required surgery after the season.
In only three of his 10 seasons as an MLB regular has he had fewer than 455 at-bats.
“People think about 2016 and say, ‘Choo is always hurt,’ “he said. “No. I’m. Not. Please check my career. How many times have I been hurt? I understand that it’s human to write more negative things. I get that, but sometimes I get upset because I work so hard to avoid the position I’ve gotten in sometimes.”
His willingness to play through injuries is part of what makes him a wonderful teammate. Beltre, who knows a thing or two about playing with injuries, said Choo works harder than most in the gym to stay healthy.
No one gets to the ballpark before he does, either, and few stay as late.
“He’s always been a good player who’s put up solid years,” Beltre said. “He leads by example. It’s good to have a guy like that because you can actually show the guys the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Choo is a professional, from the way he prepares for a game to the way he takes an at-bat and does whatever he can to win a ballgame.
The kids are watching him and learning.
“Everything,” catcher/infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa said. “He’s got a routine. He’s the first one to the park every day. He pretty much just shows me what a true professional is. Just going out there and seeing what he’s doing right now is pretty amazing, and the way he’s doing it, he’s really driving the ball. He’s just been a really great role model for all of us.”
Now, those young players can say that they are learning from an All-Star. So can the veterans.
“He’s a very hard-working sincere man,” Votto said. “I would come to the baseball park, and he’d be there early. He was always putting in extra work to become a better hitter, to make sure his body was ready, to make sure he could play every day. He’s still to this day one of my favorite teammates and someone I get excited to see here and share a moment with.”